On April 30, the fourth day of the ongoing sit-in by Organizing for Survivors and the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence, both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon unanimously voted to disband. The votes came nearly two weeks after leaked documents from 2013-2016 revealed racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes among Phi Psi brothers, as well as depictions of sexual violence. The dissolution of the frats, and the success of the sit-in, mask a deeper, systemic failure by the administration to address the actual concerns of students on this campus.
At a meeting called by members of the administration to “discuss recent events and the ongoing conversations” with core members of O4S eight days after the original release of the minutes, Dean Terhune emphasized that he had asked a member of his staff to investigate the leaked documents. In those eight days, nobody had reached out — not for the original, unredacted documents from Voices or The Phoenix, not to ask about our investigative process, not to contact any of our sources. The minutes suggested evidence of violations of college policy, both past and present, and presented a likelihood of ongoing violations of college policy. Despite this evidence, and repeated protests by both O4S and the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence, the college allowed fraternity activity to continue for ten days following the leak. No interim measures were taken until students had been in the Phi Psi house sitting in for several hours.
This is not the first time the college has ignored demands to close the frats. Time and again, the administration seems to have done the bare minimum to save face. In 2018, the Ad Hoc Committee on Well-Being and Social Life, in addition to calling for a new task force to examine the continued existence of fraternities on campus, recommended a moratorium on the fraternities for this year. President Smith rejected the moratorium. At the same meeting between administrators and O4S, students asked President Smith and Dean Terhune to temporarily close the Phi Psi house — a house containing a bedroom the 2013 brothers described in their own minutes as a “rape attic” — pending the committee’s recommendations and a full investigation of the minutes. They declined.
This behavior is part of a larger pattern. According to members of O4S and the Coalition, students had told administrators about the existence of the minutes for years. Conor Clark, the former president of Phi Psi, told Voices that the minutes were hosted on an internal Swarthmore College Computer Society (SCCS) server using Swarthmore emails. According to the college’s acceptable use technology policy, “use of the Swarthmore College computer systems and networks is governed by the general norms of responsible community conduct described in the student, faculty, and staff handbooks,” and the college retains the ability to look through or suspend any account hosted on a college server — in fact, any documents hosted on these servers are the legal property of the college. Yet even after students in 2013 told administrators about the existence of the minutes, the college did nothing. Administrators have not publicly said they have attempted to gain access to the minutes themselves, or to investigate the server for internal communication that span more than the ones originally leaked to The Phoenix.
Swarthmore has made national news in the last two days — no thanks to the administration. While student activists have spent years fighting to re-envision spaces at Swarthmore and elevate the voices of the most marginalized, the administration has responded with neglect and bureaucracy. What the past week has made clear is that, since at least 2013, the administration has turned a blind eye to seemingly-constant allegations of violations of college policy, offering empty rhetoric instead of meaningful action. The college brands itself as an institution committed to social justice, touting its students’ storied history of groundbreaking activism — but its actions speak louder than its words.
Editor’s Note: This article previously incorrectly stated that the SCCS servers themselves are the property of the college. It has been updated to specify that Swarthmore emails were used, which are college property.